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Two weeks from today, thousands of delegates, reporters and protesters will descend on Tampa, Fla., for the Republican National Convention. It’s the city’s time to shine in the national spotlight. We’ll chat with local voices about security, weather, politics and traffic, and whether the area is ready for the moment.
- Steve Newborn Reporter and producer, WUSF
- William March Reporter, The Tampa Tribune
MR. KOJO NNAMDIPreparations for the Republican National Convention in Tampa have been underway for two years, and in two short weeks, some 50,000 people, among them, yours truly, will descend on the city, so we thought this would be a good time to check in with some Tampa-based reporters to get the lay of both the political and the logistical land before festivities begin. So joining us from the studios of WUSF in Tampa is Steve Newborn. He is a reporter and producer at member station WUSF where he covers environmental issues, politics, and just about everything else in the Tampa Bay area. Steve Newborn, thank you for joining us.
MR. STEVE NEWBORNGood afternoon.
NNAMDIAlso joining us by phone from Tampa is William March. He's a reporter with the Tampa Tribune who has covered state and national politics since 1994. He also writes for the paper's Fresh Squeezed Politics blog. William March, thank you for joining us.
MR. WILLIAM MARCHHi, Kojo. Glad to be here.
NNAMDIGlad to have you, and I'll start with you, William. Let's also start with the big news of the weekend, Mitt Romney's announcement of his running mate. Today's Washington Post features a front page story about how well known, or perhaps not so well known Paul Ryan is in Florida. How much of a learning curve is there likely to be for Florida voters on this vice presidential pick?
MARCHWell, there will be quite a learning curve, Kojo. I spoke for example to a Hispanic political consultant, a Republican, in Miami over the weekend who described Ryan as quote "a blank slate" to Hispanic voters in Florida. Others he may be somewhat better known, particularly among the Tea Party style Republicans in the state. But he's not anything like one of Romney's possible other options for a running mate pick which would have been Senator Marco Rubio.
NNAMDIOh, yes. He would be considered well-known in Florida. He was considered a favorite for this slot. Any sense of surprise or disappointment that he was not the pick?
MARCHSome disappointment. The Republicans are very carefully hiding it if they feel that disappointment, but they do acknowledge that Ryan will not help Romney win in Florida as much as Marco Rubio would have.
NNAMDIAnd that is probably why Congressman Ryan is not campaigning with Governor Romney in Florida today. Steve Newborn, on the logistics front, Tampa has hosted four Super Bowls which in retrospect may have served as a kind of warm up for the convention. How are the people of the city and region feeling about this turn in the spotlight?
NEWBORNWell, it's kind of an interesting mix. I think we're seeing a mix of hope and uneasiness. Hope obviously for the kind of political payback we get for this, for all the PR, the nice shots of the beaches and the palm trees and everything like that. But there's also some uneasiness from people who are afraid of what may happen on the protest side. We've seen a lot of the videos of what happened in Chicago, the NATO protests and such, and while the protestors that I've talked to basically have been peaceful, there's a bit of uneasiness here with what might happen if things start to south in a hurry. So I think it's kind of mixture of both right now. We're just not exactly sure what to expect.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you'd like to join this conversation. If you're going to the Republican National Convention tell us why you're heading there or what you'll be watching for at the convention in Tampa. 800-433-8850. You can also send email to email@example.com. Send us a tweet @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. William, Tampa is at one end of a kind of political dividing line, the I-4 corridor that runs through Florida. How does that area compare with the rest of the state?
MARCHWell, Kojo, Florida has a reputation as being the largest through swing state, and the I-4 corridor that you referred to is just a wide belt that runs across the center of the state following Interstate 4 is the swing area of the swing state.
MARCHNorth Florida and southwest are heavily Republican, and southeast, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Palm Beach area, is heavily Democratic. Those areas balance each other out and what remains is the I-4 corridor, and that generally decides how the state goes.
NNAMDIIs redrawing of legislative lines going to affect that corridor?
MARCHIt will affect some of the legislative districts, and will probably affect our congressional delegation, the party makeup our congressional delegation, probably the party makeup of our state legislature. But of course, in a statewide election, redistricting won't affect the outcome of a statewide vote.
NNAMDIWell, we know that voter ID laws are expected to be a big issue during the election in the state of Florida. Are they expected to be a particularly big issue in that I-4 corridor area?
MARCHThey'll be a big issue throughout the state, Kojo. Florida already had a voter ID law, but a number of other measures that the legislature passed just last years in newer measures are viewed as very likely to have some effect on diminishing turnout, particularly among young people, minorities, and women. Democrats believe that the Republican-controlled legislature here has engaged in what the Democrats call voter suppression. Republicans say that these measures were aimed at combating fraud.
NNAMDIWe're talking with William March. He joins us by phone from Tampa. He's a reporter with the Tampa Tribune. He's been covering state and national politics since 1994, and William March also writes for the paper's Fresh Squeezed Politics blog. Joining us from the studios of WUSF in Tampa in Steve Newborn. He is a reporter and producer at WUSF, which is a member station. He covers environmental issues, politics, and just about everything else in the Tampa Bay area.
NNAMDISteve, one of the issues first and foremost in people's minds obviously is security. How are preparations going?
NEWBORNTampa's got a $50 million grant for security upgrades. They've gone from everything from an armored personnel carrier on one side, basically a tank that carries police officers, to radio upgrades. We're getting cameras put in downtown. There's fencing and a lot of training that's going on right now. The thing about Tampa is, it's one of the smaller cities as far as the cities that have covered -- have held conventions. There's a thousand police officers in the city, and the Tampa Police chief estimates we need 3,000 officers to adequately patrol here.
NEWBORNSo what she's done is gone to basically every corner of the state to import officers. We're getting officers from all the way down in Miami, and they're all getting trained by Homeland Security under the command of Tampa PD. So the security aspects seem to be in hand right now. They've cordoned off a large portion of downtown, and the city also has something called an event zone which encompasses all of downtown, and kind of goes about a mile away into the historic Latin corridor by Ybor City, and you basically are banned from bringing in anything that remotely looks like a weapon in there. Except, I might add, for regular weapons which are legal under state law to bring anywhere. So that's one of the in jokes around here.
NNAMDII know we'll get to that in a second, but any idea of how many protestors they are expecting at this point?
NEWBORNOh, we've heard as many at 50,000 protestors. We're not sure where they're all going to go, because the hotel rooms have all been booked here. That's the word. I talked to some people from Occupy Tampa last week, which kind of -- they're just a small group here. They alone are expecting five to 10,000 people to come from all parts of the country. I guess they're going to hook up with people in their bedrooms and just crash on their couches. We're not sure where they're going to stay, but they are expecting a very large crowd here.
NNAMDIWilliam, water guns and pieces of string longer than six inches are among the items that are not allowed in the event zone, but as Steve was just pointing out, actual guns with proper permits will be allowed. It's my understanding the question of whether guns would be allowed caused well, a little static between the mayor of Tampa and Florida's governor. Can you tell us about that?
MARCHWell, it was more than just a little static, Kojo. The mayor of Tampa, Bob Buckhorn, is a Democrat. The Governor of Florida, Rick Scott, of course is a Republican. Mayor Buckhorn asked that Tampa be exempted, he asked for a waiver from a state law that prohibits local governments from enacting any kind of gun control regulations. In Florida there's a state law that only the state can enact any kind of gun control regulations, local governments cannot. Well, Rick Scott turned him down -- turned him down flat, and in somewhat condescending or insulting language saying that the request was in effect ridiculous.
MARCHNow, what that means is that, as Steve said, anything that looks like it might even be converted into a weapon will be banned from the event zone, however, firearms themselves will be allowed under the state's concealed carry law. Now, to be clear, that does not apply to the convention hall itself, it applies only to the downtown area around the convention setting.
NNAMDISo the convention -- you can't pack heat in the convention hall itself?
NNAMDIFlorida's governor will be speaking at the RNC, William, and that has apparently delighted a lot of the state's Democrats. Why is that?
MARCHGovernor Scott is -- his job approval ratings are low. They've been edging up recently, but they've been very low throughout his tenures since he took office in early 2010. He's considered one of the most unpopular governors in the nation. He's had a highly controversial reputation here. He got elected in 2010 in spite of the controversial reputation that stems from a huge case of Medicare fraud. The company that he formerly headed paid the largest fine on record for Medicare fraud in the late '90s and the early part of the 2000s.
MARCHSo he's considered unpopular, and Democrats are eager to tie other Republican candidates to Rick Scott. Therefore, they proclaim themselves to be delighted that he will be speaking at the convention. Of course, it would have been impossible for the Republicans to ignore or snub the Republican home state governor at their convention.
NNAMDISteve Newborn, this is not news exactly, but it's hot and humid and stormy in Tampa in August. How do you expect the weather to affect the well, pace, of the average day?
NEWBORNIt's funny you mention that. We just heard thunder boomers outside the studio here about two minutes ago...
NNAMDIThanks a lot.
NEWBORN...so it's pouring outside. The question is, you're going to get all these people coming in from all over the country, and if you get a bunch of protestors from let's say the Pacific Northwest coming in with their flannel shirts, they're probably going to melt and die here in the Florida heat. Every afternoon it's about 95 degrees, 90 percent humidity, and the rains start coming down. You can pretty much set your watch by it most days.
NEWBORNSo one of the questions is how are people going to deal with the heat. I mean, there's going to be some cooling stations set up here with cold water and such, and where are you going to take shelter outside from the rains which are pretty intense when they come down. There's an expressway -- elevated expressway that goes near the parade area and the viewing area, so I guess a lot of people are going to be hiding under there when the thunderstorms start hitting.
NNAMDII guess I'll be one of those. But I have a lot more questions to ask. We don't have a lot of time, so let me get to the most important question. Tell me what one non-convention, non-political place or thing should I be sure not to miss while we're down there? I'll start with you, William.
MARCHWell, there are a lot of good restaurants in Tampa. If there's one thing that you want to see to experience Tampa culture, I guess I'd go to the Columbia in Ybor City. It specializes in Cuban cuisine which is sort of the trademark fare...
NNAMDIYou got me.
MARCH...in this area.
NNAMDIYou got me. I just wrote down the Columbia. Okay. How about you, Steve?
NEWBORNYeah. I'll double what he says. Ybor City where the Columbia is located is kind of the historic Latin corridor -- historic is a hundred years old in Tampa, but it's still pretty nice over there. And, you know, absolutely, you come to Florida you think of the beaches, the Pinellas County beaches by St. Pete, and then Clearwater are about 40 minutes away. A lot of the delegates are going to be staying out that way in hotels. So we have some of the best beaches in the world, really. It's not to be missed.
NNAMDISteven Newborn. He is a reporter and producer at member station WUSF, and William March is a reporter with the Tampa Tribune. Gentlemen, thank you both for joining us. Hope to see you soon.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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